Keeping Neat is Nice
Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )
There is a very special day in the Jewish calendar known as Lag B'Omer. (This year it's May 26th 2005, in the evening, until the 27th, in the evening.) That's when we celebrate the life and teachings of one of our greatest sages and mystics, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and also mark the day that God rescued us from a devastating plague that killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students. One of the main themes of the day is respect for others. Sometimes it's easier to remember to speak and act respectfully to strangers than to our own family and friends. This was the mistake, our sages teach, which led to the consequences that brought about the plague, and a lesson for all time - to respect everyone.
In our story, a kid discovers that respect begins at home.
"WITH ALL DUE RESPECT"
Whoa! Ken caught himself at the last moment from falling as he tripped over the pile of toys, books and clothing on his bedroom floor. Why did the simple act of walking to his desk always have to feel like he was trekking through a jungle?
He shook his head as he looked over at his brother, Randy, who shared the room with him, happily sprawled out on his unmade bed, munching on a candy bar, face buried in one of the many comic books that covered the bed like a pile of autumn leaves.
Unlike Ken, who kept his side of the room very neat and organized, Randy seemed to feel that his things belonged wherever they happened to land.
"Randy c'mon," sighed Ken. "I must have asked you a million times to please pick up your stuff when you're done with it. I can hardly breathe in here!"
The boy reluctantly lifted his nose out from the book. "What's your problem?" he asked, tossing the candy wrapper on the floor. "So what if the room is a little 'homey'? Anyway I think the maid is supposed to come tomorrow," he added sarcastically and dove back into his comic book.
Ken, as usual, saw he wasn't going to get anywhere. They had had this argument so many times that it just wasn't worth the energy. He gathered up his schoolbooks and trudged off to the local library to do his homework. He just couldn't concentrate enough to study in a room as messy as this.
A few hours later Ken returned home and couldn't believe his eyes. He could hardly recognize his room. All of his brother's things were perfectly put away, and Randy was just finishing up vacuuming the carpet, which was usually so covered with junk that Ken had almost forgotten it existed.
"Hey, what's going on?"
Randy turned around and switched off the roaring vacuum cleaner. "Oh, hi. Well I just got a call that Greg wanted to come by and visit with his cousin from out of town."
"So, I figured I couldn't let a complete stranger walk in on a mess like this. It wouldn't be, you know, respectful."
Ken didn't know whether to laugh or scream. "I can't believe you! Your own brother begs you every day to show him some respect by keeping the room neat, and you blow me off. Now some kid you don't even know, and will probably never see again, is coming over and you clean the room like it's an army barracks!"
With that, Ken stomped downstairs as Randy thought about his words. He glanced around the now neat room, and had to admit it was much nicer and probably the mess did really get on his brother's nerves. But he had always just kind of figured that with good friends and family you could be more 'yourself', more ... laid back. That wasn't being disrespectful to them, was it?
The next day Ken woke up for school and was surprised to see Randy's bed made. He never did that. If Ken didn't know better he would have thought his brother hadn't gone to sleep that night. Just then, Randy walked in after his shower and neatly hung his bathrobe in the closet instead of giving it his usual toss onto the floor.
"Oh, is that out-of-town kid coming again today?" asked Ken.
Randy turned around and smiled. "Nope, he left yesterday. I just decided to try to keep things a little more normal around here. After all, like you said, respect begins at home."
Q. Why was Randy cleaning his room before his visitor came, if he usually didn't?
A. He felt that it wasn't respectful to let a stranger come into such a messy room, but it was okay to leave it that way for his brother.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He realized that it's important to do things that showed respect for his brother and not only for strangers.
Q. What lesson did Randy learn that day?
A. He had assumed up until then that things like courtesy and respect were something we saved for strangers, but with people close to us, it was enough to just 'be ourselves' and do as we liked, even if it meant ignoring other people's feelings. But when he thought about it, he understood that respect is something we should show everyone, including our friends and family.
Q. How can we help ourselves to remember to be respectful to our family and friends?
A. A good way is before we are about to say or do something, to ask ourselves, 'Would I act like this to a stranger?' If the answer is 'No', because it's disrespectful, we shouldn't do it. We should get into the habit of saying 'please' and 'thank you', and remember that if someone is a big part of our lives, we should treat him with extra respect, and not less.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Would you say there is any difference between being polite and showing respect? If so, what?
A. On the surface, they can appear quite similar, but really, they are miles apart. Politeness is merely a set code of actions and patterns of speech that a given society deems acceptable. As long as one follows the rules, he is being polite, regardless of how he feels inside about the other person. Respect comes from within. It requires us to truly care about the other person's feelings, and realize that every person we meet is a special creation of God, and for that reason alone deserves our utmost respect.
Q. Why do you think it is often harder to treat family and close friends with respect than it is to treat strangers?
A. Ironically, it is because we feel so close to them. We let our guard down and feel they will accept us with our imperfections, and a stranger would not. Yet, although this may be true, we must overcome the temptation to lower our level of behavior. Someone's tolerance of our imperfections doesn't justify our failure to try to improve. While we need not be formal to those closest to us, we should always be respectful.